Integrating Social-Contextual and Intrapersonal Mechanisms of "Maturing Out": Joint Influences of Familial-Role Transitions and Personality Maturation on Problem-Drinking Reductions

Matthew R. Lee, Jarrod M. Ellingson, Kenneth J. Sher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background: "Maturing out" of problem drinking is associated with both role transitions (e.g., getting married) and personality development. However, little is known concerning how these 2 mechanisms jointly influence problem-drinking desistance. This study investigated whether salutary effects of role transitions and personality occur at different points in young-adult development and whether they mediate one another's effects. Methods: Participants were initially recruited as first-year undergraduates, with family history of alcoholism overrepresented by design (N = 489). Using 4 waves of data at roughly ages 21, 25, 29, and 34, cross-lagged panel models estimated prospective relations among familial-role transitions (marriage or parenthood), personality (disinhibition, conscientiousness, and neuroticism), and problem drinking. Results: Mixed support was found for the prediction of roles being more strongly associated with earlier maturing out of problem drinking and personality being more strongly associated with later maturing out. Regarding mediation, no evidence was found for the expectation that role effects would be mediated by personality. However, results did support mediation of personality effects by role transitions. Specifically, lower disinhibition and higher conscientiousness in emerging adulthood predicted role adoption, which, in turn, predicted later problem-drinking reductions. Family history of alcoholism also distally influenced these mediation processes. Conclusions: The differential timing of role and personality effects is consistent with the notion of decreasing contextual influences and increasing intrapersonal influences across development. In light of role incompatibility theory, results suggest that, over the course of development, the association of familial roles with problem drinking may increasingly reflect problem-drinking effects on role entry (i.e., role selection) and decreasingly reflect role entry effects on problem drinking (i.e., role socialization). As emerging-adult disinhibition and conscientiousness were associated with an apparent developmental cascade of both direct and indirect effects, findings highlight their potential importance as etiologic mechanisms and intervention targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1775-1787
Number of pages13
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Alcohol
  • Familial-Role Transitions
  • Maturing Out
  • Personality Maturation
  • Young Adulthood


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